Tag Archives: dependent types

Dependent types in Haskell: Progress Report

It was drawn to my attention that there is an active Reddit thread about the future of dependent types in Haskell. (Thanks for the heads up, @thomie!) Instead of writing a long response inline in Reddit, it seems best to address the (very knowledgeable, respectful, and all around heartening) debate here.

When can we expect dependent types in GHC?

The short answer: GHC 8.4 (2018) at the very earliest. More likely 8.6 or 8.8 (2019-20).

Here is the schedule as I see it:

  • GHC 8.2: Clean up some of the lingering issues with -XTypeInType. As I will be starting a new job (Asst. Prof. at Bryn Mawr College) this fall, I simply won’t have the opportunity to do more than some cleanup work for the next release. Also, quite frankly, I need a release cycle off from the challenge of putting in a large new feature. Polishing up -XTypeInType for release took probably an extra full month of unexpected work time! I don’t regret this in the slightest, but I could use a cycle off.
  • GHC 8.4: This depends on what other research opportunities come up in the next year and how much more attention -XTypeInType needs. If all goes well this fall and I can get a few publications out in the next year (certainly possible – I have several in the works), then I could conceivably start primary implementation of -XDependentTypes next summer. The odds that it will be in a state to merge for 8.4 are slim, however.
  • GHC 8.6: We’re now talking about a real possibility here. Assuming I start the implementation next summer, this would give me a year and a half to complete it. I desperately wish to avoid merging late in the cycle (which is what made -XTypeInType so stressful) so perhaps merging soon after GHC 8.4 comes out is a good goal. If this slips, GHC 8.8 seems like quite a likely candidate.

Regardless of the schedule, I have every intention of actually doing this work.

One major oversight in the schedule above: I have completely discounted the possibility of collaborators in coding this up. Do you wish to help make this a reality? If so, let’s talk. I’ll admit that there may be a bit of a hill for an outside collaborator to climb before I really start collaborating in earnest, so be prepared to show (or create!) evidence that you’re good at getting your hands dirty in the greasy wheels of GHC’s typechecker without very much oversight. I’ve encouraged several of you on Trac/Phab – you know who you are, I hope. For others who have not yet contributed to GHC: you’re likely best served starting smaller than implementing dependent types! But let’s talk anyway, if you’re interested.

What is the design of dependent types in Haskell?

I expect to hand in my dissertation in the next two weeks. While I am developing it in the public eye (and warmly welcome issues to be posted), there is no publicly available PDF build. Building instructions are in the README. I will post a built PDF when I hand in my draft to my thesis committee. I will be defending on September 1 and will likely make some revisions (as suggested by my committee) afterward.

Readers here will likely be most interested in Chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 3 will contain (I’m still writing it!) numerous examples of dependent types in Haskell and how they might be useful. Chapter 4 presents the design of dependent types in Haskell as a diff over current Haskell. This design is not yet up to the standard of the Haskell Reports, mostly because it is unimplemented and seems not worth the effort of formalization until we know it is implementable. For the overly curious, Chapter 5 contains a new intermediate language (to replace GHC Core) and Chapter 6 contains the type inference algorithm that will deal with dependent types. Happy summer reading!

Responses to particular comments on the Reddit thread

  • @elucidatum: How radical of a change and how much of a challenge will it be to refactor existing codebases?

    No change is necessary. All code that currently compiles with -XTypeInType will compile with -XDependentTypes. (The only reason I have to set -XTypeInType as my baseline is because of the parsing annoyance around *, which must be imported to be used with -XTypeInType.) Any refactoring will be around how much you, as the Haskell author, wish to take advantage of dependent types.

  • @jlimperg: Pervasive laziness in Haskell means that we like to use a lot of coinductive types. But this is really annoying for proof purposes because coinduction, despite the nice duality with induction, is a lot less pleasant to work with.

    Yes, this is true. My approach is, essentially, to pretend that types are inductive, not coinductive. One consequence of this decision is that proofs of type equality will have to be run. This means that including dependent types will slow down your running program. Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to, though.

    Suppose you have a function proof :: ... -> a :~: b. The function proof provides a proof that type a equals type b. If this function terminates at all, it will always produce Refl. Thus, if we knew that the function terminated, then we wouldn’t have to run it. We can’t know whether it terminates. But you, the programmer, can assert that it terminates, like this: {-# RULES "proof" proof ... = unsafeCoerce Refl #-} Now, GHC will replace any use of proof with Refl directly. Note that GHC still type-checks your proof. All this RULE does is assert termination.

    “But,” you say, “I don’t want to have to merely assert termination! If I wanted to assert correctness instead of prove it, I wouldn’t use dependent types.” My response: “Touché.” Haskell indeed is less powerful than those other dependently typed languages in this regard. Nevertheless, by using dependent types in Haskell, you still get a whole lot more compile-time guarantees than you get without dependent types. You just don’t get termination. You thus have a choice: “prove” termination at runtime by actually running your proofs, or assert it at compile time and keep your dependently typed program efficient, and still with lots of guarantees. Recall that we Haskellers have never proved termination of anything, ever, so not proving termination of a function named proof shouldn’t be all that alarming.

    Note: If RULES such as the one above become pervasive, perhaps a compiler flag can make them automatic, effectively (and concisely) assuming termination for all proofs in a module.

  • @jlimperg: Proving is hard

    Yes, it is. Typechecker plugins may help here. It is easy enough, however, to implement dependent types without this advanced support. As we work through the consequences of dependent types in Haskell, I’m confident the community (including me) will come up with ways to make it easier.

  • @jlimperg: As is well-known, a dependent type system is inconsistent (i.e. everything can be proven) unless all computations terminate, which is obviously not the case for general Haskell.

    Yes, this is true. Dependent types in Haskell will be inconsistent, when we view Haskell as a logic. Dependent types will still remain type-safe however. (This is because we run the proofs!) I just wish to point out here that @jlimperg suggests a syntactic check for termination: this, sadly, will not work. Haskell has too many ways for a computation to diverge, and a syntactic check can rule out only general recursion and partial pattern matches. Haskell also has infinite data types, non-strictly-positive datatypes, TypeRep (which can be abused to cause a loop), Type :: Type, and likely more back doors. I’d love to see a termination checker for Haskell, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • @jlimperg: This point is very speculative, but I strongly dislike the current flavour of ‘almost-dependent’ type-level programming in Haskell.

    So do I. Singletons are an abomination. I hate them. These are gone with my design for dependent types, and I think the resulting language has the niceties we all want in a dependently typed language (modulo termination checking).

  • @dogodel: I think it will take a while for the change to percolate into better design. … I think the most immediate benefit will be for (no surprise) expressive DSL, which are actually quite common in any modest codebase, but maybe not the “core” of the project.

    Agreed completely. It will take time for us to figure out the best way to use dependent types.

  • @sinyesdo: The best summary I can offer is that “totality” is really really important for DT languages

    This is true for those other dependently typed languages, but not for Haskell. See my response to the first of @jlimperg’s points quoted here.

  • @ccasin: The main reasons to care that your programming language is total are to make the type system consistent as a logic and to make type checking decidable. But we’ve already given up both these things in Haskell, and it’s possible to have dependent types without them.

    Agreed in full, and with @ccasin’s full post.

  • @jmite: If you want fully Dependent-Type types, why not use Idris, Agda, Coq, or F*?

    I’m in broad agreement with the responses to this point on Reddit: basically, that none of these languages have Haskell’s ecosystem or optimizing compiler. See also Section 3.3 of my dissertation.

  • @tactics: What does “fully dependent types” even mean for something like Haskell? You would have to rework the core language entirely.

    Yes, precisely. This is Chapter 5 of my dissertation.


I hope this information helps. Do keep an eye out for my finished dissertation sometime in the next few months. And, as always, this is all a work in progress and no one should take anything as set in stone. If there’s a design decision you disagree with, please speak up!

Planned change to GHC: merging types and kinds

I’m proud to announce that I’m nearing completion on a major patch to GHC, merging types and kinds. This patch has been in development since late 2012 (!), with many interruptions in the meantime. But I really do think it will make it for 7.12, due out early 2016. This post is meant to generate discussion in the community about the proposed changes and to get feedback about any user-facing aspects which might be of interest.


The real motivation for writing this is that it’s a key step toward dependent types, as described in the paper laying out the theory that underlies this patch. But other motivation is close to hand as well. This patch fixes GHC bug #7961, which concerns promotion of GADTs – after this patch is merged, all types can be used as kinds, because kinds are the same as types! This patch also contributes toward the solution of the problems outlined in the wiki page for the concurrent upgrade to Typeable, itself part of the Distributed Haskell plan.


Below are some fun examples that compile with my patch. As usual, this page is a literate Haskell file, and these examples really do compile! (I haven’t yet implemented checking for the proposed extension StarInStar, which this will require in the end.)

> {-# LANGUAGE DataKinds, PolyKinds, GADTs, TypeOperators, TypeFamilies #-}
> {-# OPTIONS_GHC -fwarn-unticked-promoted-constructors #-}
> -- a Proxy type with an explicit kind
> data Proxy k (a :: k) = P
> prox :: Proxy * Bool
> prox = P
> prox2 :: Proxy Bool 'True
> prox2 = P
> -- implicit kinds still work
> data A
> data B :: A -> *
> data C :: B a -> *
> data D :: C b -> *
> data E :: D c -> *
> -- note that E :: forall (a :: A) (b :: B a) (c :: C b). D c -> *
> -- a kind-indexed GADT
> data TypeRep (a :: k) where
>   TInt   :: TypeRep Int
>   TMaybe :: TypeRep Maybe
>   TApp   :: TypeRep a -> TypeRep b -> TypeRep (a b)
> zero :: TypeRep a -> a
> zero TInt            = 0
> zero (TApp TMaybe _) = Nothing
> data Nat = Zero | Succ Nat
> type family a + b where
>   'Zero     + b = b
>   ('Succ a) + b = 'Succ (a + b)
> data Vec :: * -> Nat -> * where
>   Nil  :: Vec a 'Zero
>   (:>) :: a -> Vec a n -> Vec a ('Succ n)
> infixr 5 :>
> -- promoted GADT, and using + as a "kind family":
> type family (x :: Vec a n) ++ (y :: Vec a m) :: Vec a (n + m) where
>   'Nil      ++ y = y
>   (h ':> t) ++ y = h ':> (t ++ y)
> -- datatype that mentions *
> data U = Star *
>        | Bool Bool
> -- kind synonym
> type Monadish = * -> *
> class MonadTrans (t :: Monadish -> Monadish) where
>   lift :: Monad m => m a -> t m a
> data Free :: Monadish where
>   Return :: a -> Free a
>   Bind   :: Free a -> (a -> Free b) -> Free b
> -- yes, * really does have type *.
> type Star = (* :: (* :: (* :: *)))


More details are in the wiki page for this redesign. As stated above, I’d love your feedback on all of this!

Decidable Propositional Equality in Haskell

A recent discussion on the cvs-ghc mailing list touched on propositional decidable equality in Haskell. This post will explain propositional equality and consider different encodings of this idea in Haskell.


This blog post is a literate Haskell file, compatible with GHC 7.6.1. As usual, we need some initial declarations to get off the ground.

> {-# LANGUAGE DataKinds, PolyKinds, GADTs, TypeFamilies,
>              LambdaCase #-}
> {-# OPTIONS_GHC -fwarn-incomplete-patterns #-}
> data Nat = Zero | Succ Nat

Throughout the post, I will be talking about equality on Nats, but the ideas here extend to any types that would admit a good instance of Eq.

We will need length-indexed vectors to make interesting use of the ideas here:

> data Vec :: * -> Nat -> * where
>   VNil  :: Vec a Zero
>   VCons :: a -> Vec a n -> Vec a (Succ n)
> safeHead :: Vec a (Succ n) -> a
> safeHead (VCons h _) = h
> safeTail :: Vec a (Succ n) -> Vec a n
> safeTail (VCons _ t) = t

Note that there is no need for another clause for safeHead or safeTail because the types forbid, for example, safeHead VNil.

Propositional Equality

We are all (hopefully?) familiar with Boolean equality:

> boolEq :: Nat -> Nat -> Bool
> boolEq Zero     Zero     = True
> boolEq (Succ a) (Succ b) = boolEq a b
> boolEq _        _        = False

We can even lift this idea to the type level:

> type family BoolEq (a :: Nat) (b :: Nat) :: Bool
> type instance BoolEq Zero Zero = True
> type instance BoolEq (Succ a) (Succ b) = BoolEq a b
> type instance BoolEq Zero (Succ x) = False
> type instance BoolEq (Succ x) Zero = False

Let’s try to write a function to retrieve the second element from a vector:

cadr :: Vec a n -> a
cadr v = safeHead (safeTail v)

We get an error:

Couldn't match type `n' with 'Succ ('Succ n0)

Naturally, GHC can’t confidently apply safeHead and safeTail because we don’t know that v has at least 2 elements.

Let’s try again:

cadr :: (BoolEq n (Succ (Succ n')) ~ True) => Vec a n -> a
cadr v = safeHead (safeTail v)

Still doesn’t work:

Could not deduce (n ~ 'Succ ('Succ n0))
from the context (BoolEq n ('Succ ('Succ n')) ~ 'True)

The problem is that GHC doesn’t know that our Boolean equality function really shows the equality of two types.

This is a contrived example, though. Instead, let’s consider a program passing around explicit evidence of whether or not a list has at least two elements. If the list doesn’t, the function should return a supplied default.

To pass around evidence of a type-level Boolean quantity, we need the singleton type for Booleans:

> data SBool :: Bool -> * where
>   STrue  :: SBool True
>   SFalse :: SBool False

(If you’ve never seen singleton types before, my singletons paper on the subject contains helpful information.)

cadr :: SBool (BoolEq n (Succ (Succ n'))) -> a -> Vec a n -> a
cadr evidence deflt v = case evidence of
  STrue -> safeHead (safeTail v)
  SFalse -> deflt

Still, no go:

Could not deduce (n ~ 'Succ ('Succ n0))
from the context (BoolEq n ('Succ ('Succ n')) ~ 'True)
  bound by a pattern with constructor
             STrue :: SBool 'True,

In the end, this last example is the same as the previous. Pattern-matching on the SBool just brings the equality (BoolEq n (Succ (Succ n'))) ~ True into the context.

We need to convert Boolean equality to propositional equality, which is denoted by ~. Propositional equality is an equality among types that GHC can make use of in type checking code. To work with propositional equality, we need to make it first class, instead of just a constraint.

> data PropEq :: k -> k -> * where
>   Refl :: PropEq x x

Let’s now try to write a conversion function from Boolean equality to propositional equality:

boolToProp :: (BoolEq a b ~ True) => PropEq a b
boolToProp = Refl

Same old problem:

Could not deduce (a ~ b)
from the context (BoolEq a b ~ 'True)

What we need to do is to build up the propositional equality from pieces that GHC can easily verify are indeed equal. We need an inductive proof that our definition of Boolean equality is correct for any natural number. To write such a proof, we will need to do case analysis on a and b. To do that, in turn, we will need a singleton over natural numbers.

> data SNat :: Nat -> * where
>   SZero :: SNat Zero
>   SSucc :: SNat n -> SNat (Succ n)

Now, let’s write the inductive proof:

boolToProp :: (BoolEq a b ~ True) => SNat a -> SNat b -> PropEq a b
boolToProp SZero SZero = Refl
boolToProp (SSucc x') (SSucc y') = boolToProp x' y'


Could not deduce (n ~ 'Succ n)
Could not deduce (n1 ~ 'Succ n1)

The problem is that we are returning the result of boolToProp x' y' directly from boolToProp, even though x' and y' have different types than SSucc x and SSucc y. The solution is to use a pattern match on the result from the recursive call. Let’s call the type index associated with x' to be a' and that with y' to be b'. Then, the recursive call gives us (Refl :: PropEq a' b'). If we pattern match on this, we get the propositional equality a' ~ b' into the context. This can be used to show Succ a' ~ Succ b' (which is really just a ~ b), so we can now use Refl once again, though at a different type:

> boolToProp :: (BoolEq a b ~ True) => SNat a -> SNat b -> PropEq a b
> boolToProp SZero SZero = Refl
> boolToProp (SSucc a') (SSucc b') =
>   case boolToProp a' b' of
>     Refl -> Refl

Great. Except now we get this warning:

Pattern match(es) are non-exhaustive
In an equation for `boolToProp':
    Patterns not matched:
        SZero (SSucc _)
        (SSucc _) SZero

The problem is that there is no possible way out in these cases, so we’ll just have to put undefined:

boolToProp SZero (SSucc _) = undefined
boolToProp (SSucc _) SZero = undefined

Wait. Now there’s a new problem:

Couldn't match type 'False with 'True
Inaccessible code in ...
Couldn't match type 'False with 'True
Inaccessible code in ...

GHC rightly determines that these cases are impossible. Why are they impossible? Because we know that BoolEq a b ~ True. In these cases, that wouldn’t be the case, so GHC can’t match False with True.

But now we are in a quandary. Without the extra matches, we get a warning (due to -fwarn-incomplete-patterns, which you should never leave home without). With the matches, we get an error. That’s silly. And others agree that it’s silly, filing bug report #3927. According to the commentary on the bug report, Simon PJ says, “The more complaints the more likely I am to put off other things to do this one!” So, at the risk of pestering dear Simon, if you are annoyed by this, please complain! The best way to complain is simply to add yourself to the Cc list of the bug report. If enough people do this, the bug will get fixed sooner. Or, even better, try to fix it yourself!

So, where does this leave us? I can’t stand a warning in my code, so we’ll suppress it with this:

> boolToProp _ _ = error "bug 3927"

Let’s try to write cadr one last time, this time armed with boolToProp:

> cadr :: SBool (BoolEq n (Succ (Succ n'))) -> SNat n
>      -> SNat n' -> a -> Vec a n -> a
> cadr evidence n n' deflt v = case evidence of
>   STrue -> case boolToProp n (SSucc (SSucc n')) of
>     Refl -> safeHead (safeTail v)
>   SFalse -> deflt

It works! Hurrah!

The sad part here is that, to make it work, we needed to pass around two SNats and perform an O(n) operation (at runtime – the boolToProp “proof” runs!) to prove to GHC that the operation is valid. Can we do better?

Decidable Propositional Equality

Yes, we can.

The problem lies in the fact that we branch on a witness of Boolean equality. There is an alternative: decidable propositional equality. The idea is that instead of just type-level Booleans, decidable equality stores either evidence that two types are equal or evidence that they are not. We know how to write evidence that two types a and b are equal: PropEq a b. What’s the opposite of PropEq a b? It’s the statement that PropEq a b implies falsehood. In Haskell, we can represent falsehood with an empty type.

> data Falsehood
> type Not a = a -> Falsehood

Now, we can define decidable equality in Haskell:

> type DecidableEquality (a :: k) (b :: k) = Either (PropEq a b) (Not (PropEq a b))

We can even write a function to decide equality over Nats. Because this function produces runtime evidence, it uses singletons to work with types.

> decEq :: SNat a -> SNat b -> DecidableEquality a b
> decEq SZero SZero = Left Refl
> decEq (SSucc x') (SSucc y') = case decEq x' y' of
>   Left Refl -> Left Refl
>   Right contra -> Right (\case Refl -> contra Refl)

There’s a little magic going on here, so let’s pause and reflect. The first equation is straightforward. In the second, we recur on a' and b'. If those in fact are equal, we still unpack the Left Refl result and create a new Left Refl at a different type. We’ve seen this before, so it’s OK.

But what’s going on with Right? Once again, let’s call the type index associated with x' to be a', and likewise with y' and b'. The return type of decEq x' y' is DecidableEquality a' b'. Because we’ve matched with Right, we know that contra must have type Not (PropEq a' b'), synonymous with PropEq a' b' -> Falsehood. We must produce something of type PropEq a b -> Falsehood. So, we write a lambda-case pattern match on the PropEq a b to get the equality a ~ b. Because a is Succ a' and b is Succ b', GHC can use a ~ b to derive a' ~ b', and thus we can call contra with Refl :: PropEq a' b'. Whew.

Now, we deal with the failure cases. If we know that, say, a is Zero and b is Succ b', then GHC rightly figures out that PropEq a b (which expands to PropEq Zero (Succ b')) is an empty type.

decEq SZero (SSucc _) = Right (\case {})
decEq (SSucc _) SZero = Right (\case {})

No go:

parse error on input `}'

GHC does not support empty pattern matches. (UPDATE [Jan 4, 2013]: Simon PJ has implemented empty pattern matches in HEAD. Yay!) A feature request to support these was submitted as bug report #2431. Drat. Explicitly pattern matching on Refl gives us an inaccessible code error (correctly), so we are forced to do this dreadful workaround:

> decEq SZero (SSucc _) = Right (\_ -> error "bug 2431")
> decEq (SSucc _) SZero = Right (\_ -> error "bug 2431")

(Incidentally, this bug seems much easier to fix than #3927, so if you have a little time, go for it!)

So, now that we’ve defined decEq, how can we use it? Let’s write a wrapper around safeHead with evidence. We’ll first need a way to eliminate Falsehood. From logic, we learn that falsehood implies anything, neatly expressed in this type:

> exFalsoQuodlibet :: Falsehood -> a

Unfortunately, even with a manifestly empty type, we can’t use an empty pattern match. So, we do this:

> exFalsoQuodlibet = \case _ -> error "bug 2431"

Here is the type for our new head operation:

> safeHead' :: DecidableEquality n Zero -> SNat n -> a -> Vec a n -> a

In this example, as opposed to above, we reason about whether n is Zero. Because we set the example up this way, the evidence when n is not Zero will be necessary for a complete definition of the safeHead' operation.

> safeHead' (Left Refl) _ deflt _ = deflt
> safeHead' (Right contra) n _ v = case n of
>   SZero -> exFalsoQuodlibet (contra Refl)
>   SSucc _ -> safeHead v

Note that this definition is complete: we can use the primitives that we have built up to eliminate the impossible case match. Of course, those primitives had to avoid empty pattern matches. However, it is easy to imagine a future where bugs #2431 and #3927 are gone and we can define this without any partial features of Haskell.

I should also note that we can’t use exFalsoQuodlibet (contra Refl) in the SSucc _ case. GHC rightly complains Couldn't match type 'Succ n1 with 'Zero in the use of Refl.

Fun stuff, no?